#FridayFlash: The 200th Body

For the fourth time in as many minutes, Tony "Big Finger" Noland wiped the blood out of his eyes. His left hand was slick with it, but it was the broken index and middle fingers that made the wiping difficult. Doing it left handed wouldn't have been a big deal otherwise; he'd long since trained himself to be competently ambidextrous. With his right arm broken in a three places below the elbow, he could afford to pat himself on the back for that.

He mopped away the blood and went back to tying the splint against his right arm. Scalp wounds... his least favorite kind. They bled like crazy and made a mess of everything. Worse, they were a pain in the ass to stitch up by yourself. At least the first gush of blood had slowed. When he was finished with the arm, he'd check on it more closely.

Twenty minutes and a lot of swearing later, Big Finger Noland straightened up and looked at himself in the dented metal mirror over the garage's washup sink. He smelled like deisel fuel, blood, Fast Orange Hand Cleaner and, under it all, the lingering traces of puke. Strange things happened when people got shot. This time, the mark cut loose with a projectile stream when Noland shot him the first time. Belly, belly, chest, then a double tap through the forehead when he was good and down. Of course, that was all after the little fuck had gotten in some solid hits with that tire iron. Too many, and more than he should have. One little slip on an oil patch was enough to send Noland to the floor of the garage with his first step out of the shadows. It gave his target a chance to run.

Or to fight, which he'd chosen to do. This was odd and unnerving, not because it had happened tonight, but because he was the third guy this year who'd tried to fight it out. There was a time when men ran from Noland, when whole bars would clear out just because he got up from a stool with murder in his eye. But now?

Over the sink, there was an old man in the mirror. He wore a dead man's baseball cap, set loosely atop wet, matted hair. The haggard and weary old man used his left hand - his clumsy and weak left hand - to adjust his shirt buttons. It was unnatural the way the old man kept his right arm down. However, with it down at his side you couldn't tell that it was wrapped up in a stiff, bulky package inside his sleeve.

Noland looked at the old man. He didn't look like someone you'd run away from. The old man looked back, his expression at once sad and challenging.

"What the fuck are you looking at?" they said to each other. "You want to do a job like this and not get your hair mussed up a little, be my guest."

Blood loss, that's what it was. Nothing but blood loss was making him talk to himself. Noland turned and talked to the corpse on the floor.

"What do you think? Do I pass? Will I attract attention as I drive your sorry ass up to the lake? More importantly, how am I gonna get you into the trunk? And am I even gonna make any money on this job? It's gonna cost me a penny to get stitched up, if I want it done quietly."

And behind the ones he'd asked out loud, there were the more fearful questions. With his left hand broken and his right arm shattered, how long would it be until he could work again? Would he be able to work again at all? How would he be able to handle a gun or knife after he healed? Would anyone hire him? The injuries were sure to make people talk. Big Finger Noland... yeah, he used to be a good button man, but he got old and slow. Look how he almost got himself killed on a simple whack job. Can't trust him to push a button on somebody, not when it matters.

Noland chewed his lip. What would he do? He had some money put by, but not that much. And it wasn't like a button man could retire anyway. No loafing in a sunny condo on the Gulf Coast. A button man drops out of the business for a couple of years, people start to get anxious that maybe he's gonna start talking, they send somebody around to pay him a visit and see that he stays quiet. No such thing as an old ex-button man. Noland knew he could still do the job, but he also knew that he didn't heal up from this kind of thing as quickly as he used to. How long did he have until people started talking?

He looked at the corpse, but dared not put these questions to it. The corpse didn't notice the uncomfortable silence. It lay cooling on the floor, wrapped in a triple layer of oil-soak pads. The back of the head was a wreck, but the face was still intact. Noland stared into its half-lidded eyes.

"Hey," Big Finger said, "you ever think about how things might have turned out different? Like if you'd made difference decisions when you were a kid? How you might have had some other career? Some other life?"

The corpse said nothing.

"Beautiful. Just beautiful. I'm talking to a whack. And thanks to you, I can't see as how I have any life ahead of me. You're what they call an exquisite corpse, you know that? I kill you, you kill me. Serves me right." He stooped to the body and extended his left hand, sheltering his broken fingers as much as possible. "Come on, buddy. Into the trunk with you. We can talk on the way up to the mountains."

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11 comments:

  1. Big Finger, huh? Did I see you on the VMAs the other night? :)

    Seriously, happy 200th and well done.

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    1. Ha! I didn't even think of the VMAa!

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  2. Lots of character in this piece. Congrats on attaining your goal.

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  3. Now is Big Finger asking the corpse those questions, or himself?

    These days, he could always write a tell-all, put it up on Amazon, and off himself. Let Bugsy and Mugsy figure out how to handle THAT. :-P

    Congrats on #200! These days, I'm having trouble getting there two or three weeks in a row.

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    1. I'm pretty sure being a writer is one of those "roads not taken" for this guy.

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  4. This would make an interesting buddy movie...

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  5. Oh dear, that was disturbing! You packed a lot of emotion into this flash!

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  6. Oh dear, that was disturbing! You packed a lot of emotion into this flash!

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  7. Questioning your career choices, Tony? I liked the exquisite corpse line. Nice.

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  8. I never have been clear on what exactly your day job is. Maybe it's better if we don't know.

    Thanks to watching far too many Walter Matthau movies as a kid, I am very fond of philosophical hit men, so I enjoyed this a lot. Great rendering!

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